The Lakers played their first game in China early in the a.m. PST, losing to the Warriors 100-95. The loss drops the Lakers to 2-3 in the preseason, but the record isn’t really something that concerns me. In fact, I don’t have too many concerns about this team as they progress through their prep to the regular season. It’s not that this team is some sort of powerhouse with no weaknesses — they’re not that at all — but more the fact this team continues to play hard on both sides of the ball, is showing some smarts in how they execute their schemes, and is working to try and play to the strengths (both as a team and as individual players).
All in all, this leaves me feeling good about this team. They may not win a boatload of games and they’re still going to frustrate through some of the things they do, but with the work they’re doing and how they’re going about their process it’s hard to not root for this group. This isn’t something you could necessarily say about some of the recent versions of this team (especially, when recalling some of the drama, last year’s group).
With that said, the games, win or lose, continue to offer us insights into their progress and development. The loss to the Warriors was no different, opening the curtain a little bit wider to give us a clearer view of what this team is good (and not as good) at. So, onto my notes from the game…
*The more we see the Pau/Kaman duo start games, the more I think this will be the regular starting front-court once the real games start. Offensively they continue to show good chemistry, especially in the high-low games that start with both bigs at the elbows through the team’s HORNS sets. On the first play of the 2nd half, the Lakers ran the same action they so often ran when Dwight was still on the team, starting with an entry to Pau at the elbow and then having Nash cut through the lane and then set a back screen for the other big man who then dives to the rim. In this game, Nash set a great pick on Chris Kaman’s man and Pau hit his big man partner with a great pass that lead to an easy finish.
Where this duo is being tested, however, is on defense. David Lee scored at will in this game, hitting jumpers when either Pau or Kaman (but mostly Pau) didn’t want to venture too far out to guard him, driving by them when they did step out, and working in the post for good shots too. Andrew Bogut also did good work in the paint, scoring on dives out of the P&R and doing some good work out of the post as well. This work all reinforced the fact that even though Pau and Kaman offer good size, they’re not the best rim protectors and other team’s bigs (as well as their aggressive wings) will attack the paint and try to get good looks inside as often as they can. Whether Pau and Kaman can find ways to defend at a viable level remains to be seen, but some of the support they provided in this game didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
*I continue to like what I see from Shawne Williams. The guy simply knows what his role is and doesn’t often try to step outside of it to do things he’s not great at. Offensively this means shooting when open and moving the ball when he’s not. He’s got good enough skill to dribble penetrate and will get to the rim if the path is there, but for the most part he’s penetrating only to draw the defense and to move the ball on to a teammate after the help comes. Defensively he’s proving to be mobile and active. He’s working to be in the right spots and has enough athleticism to get where he needs to be most of the time. He also fights on the glass and is a willing rebounder. When it’s all said and done, Williams looks like a real rotation player and could very much fill the spot that Earl Clark left open when he left for Cleveland.
*Nick Young played well, mostly because he hit shots but not only because he hit shots. While Young still stops the ball in order to work in isolation and shoot long jumpers, he’s also productively using his dribble to get closer to the rim where he’s drawing fouls and moving the ball when he doesn’t have an opening. He’s still out there to score the ball and when his shot is falling he can do that very well, but it’s also nice to see him do more than just fire up contested jumpers.
*When should we worry about Farmar (and to a bit lesser extent Wes Johnson) missing games? When Farmar was first ruled out a week ago, he (and the team) said this was mostly precautionary and that his injured calf wasn’t really a big deal. Now, though, he’s missed the last several games and there’s no official word on when he’ll be back. What’s most important is that he’s ready for the season and that he stays healthy once that time comes, but it would also be nice to see him in the lineup and get some idea that this calf issue really isn’t that serious.
*Ryan Kelly saw his first burn of the season and he played well in limited minutes. Not only did he hit two 3 pointers, but he also showed he’s a capable offensive player in other ways, showing a decent handle and nice post entry skills when he shared the floor with Pau Gasol. He also showed nice feel for how to move around the floor, drifting into open space where he could either shoot his jumper or move the ball on to an open teammate when the defense rotated to him. He also looked alright defensively, showing an understanding of where he should be in help situations. He has a long way to go before we can make any definitive statements about what kind of player he will be, but he showed some positive signs in this game.
*I noted on twitter that, based off performance to this point, I believe both Shawne Williams and Xavier Henry make the final roster. That would bring the roster to 13 players including the 11 guys with fully guaranteed deals on the team. That leaves two roster spots up for grabs with Ryan Kelly, Marcus Landry, and Elias Harris all fighting to make the team. This battle will likely go all the way towards the end of camp with several factors going into the decision.
With that said, here are some things to consider: Kelly has the best pedigree and good size. It’s also important to remember that he was drafted by the team and front offices often find it difficult to cut someone they’ve used real resources on. Especially in training camp. Harris has a very good all around skill set and, like Shawne Williams, really seems to understand his role and limitations, working to play within both. He’s got a “pro’s body” and has shown good athleticism on defense and the glass. He’s more of a “jack of all trades, master of none”, but that repertoire could come in handy down the line. Harris also has a partial guarantee ($100K) on his salary and that can’t be dismissed, even if it’s not a huge amount. Landry has shown he’ll compete and, despite some poor shooting numbers, has a good stroke. He also has a history with D’Antoni and has been the first of these fringe players to get into the game for the past few contests.
Which of these players, with their specific factors, gets the nod will be interesting. If it were me, I’d choose Harris and Kelly. Both are younger than Landry and both have more room to grow as players with as good or better talent bases. We’ll see how it goes, though.